The Democratic Function of Missouri’s Periodic
Constitutional Convention Referendum
Missouri got the periodic referendum in 1920 via a constitutional initiative. For more than a decade the proponents of this initiative had repeatedly tried and failed to get the legislature to call a constitutional convention. They thus decided they would need to bypass the legislature if they wanted to call one. Their strategy was to pass a constitutional initiative that would every 20 years automatically place on a statewide ballot the question whether to call a convention, with the first time only one year hence. This periodic question has been on the ballot in 1921, 1942, 1962, 1982, 2002, and 2022.
One democratic function of the periodic constitutional convention referendum is to provide a vehicle for constitutional reforms that cover more than one subject. Both legislature- and petition-initiated constitutional changes can only cover at most one subject.
Another function is to bypass the legislature, which may have a conflict of interest in proposing certain constitutional reforms that bear on legislators’ entrenchment in power, including legislative term limits, redistricting, and transparency, or its power in relation to competing branches of government, including the executive, judiciary, and local government.
Another function is to democratize constitutional amendment proposal power. Like the constitutional convention, the constitutional initiative provides a valuable democratic safety valve when a legislature has a conflict of interest with the people concerning the legislature’s power in relation to competing horizontal branches of government, local government, and the people’s rights. But it relies on private money to get a constitutional initiative on the ballot. Since this is very expensive to do, it creates huge barriers to getting constitutional amendments on the ballot, especially for issues that don’t have a significant payoff for well organized and wealthy entities. A constitutional convention, in contrast, is publicly funded, and it is easy for an individual convention delegate to propose a reform or modification of a reform already proposed. This means that it can address many types of legislative bypass issues where the payoff wouldn’t be adequate for a constitutional initiative sponsor. A vivid example would be the successful efforts of Missouri’s 1943-4 convention to create a shorter, more readable constitution, a more efficient and less wasteful government, a more empowered executive branch, and more empowered local governments.
To be sure, Missouri’s constitutional convention procedures are far from perfect. The framers of the initiative creating Missouri’s periodic constitutional convention referendum wisely removed the legislature’s control of not only calling a convention but also delegate election rules. This is vividly illustrated by their provision banning public officials from running for delegate. But other provisions were too parochial: well suited for the political problems of 1920 but not of 2022. Just like rules for electing legislators have been reformed during the last hundred years, those delegate election rules should be reformed by either a future constitutional initiative or constitutional convention.
Missouri’s constitutional convention is, like other democratic institutions, a flawed institution. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a vital role to play in strengthening Missouri’s framework of government–a role that neither legislature- nor petititon-initiated constitutional change mechanisms can reasonably aspire to.
J.H. Snider Op-eds
on the Upcoming Referendum
- Snider, J.H., Missourians have a new opportunity to demand a constitutional convention, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 4, 2022.
- Snider, J.H., Appellate judges should call a jury to pick state Senate’s redistricting map, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 24, 2022.
Joseph Pulitzer, founder of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was elected a delegate to Missouri’s 1875 constitutional convention. There, he led the successful fight to enact the first home rule charter in any state constitution in America. Despite winning home rule for...
The Missouri Senate’s redistricting commission failed to submit a plan to the Secretary of State’s office by the constitutionally mandated Dec. 23 deadline, thus handing over responsibility for drawing the Senate’s district lines to a panel of appellate judges....
Notable Historical Facts
- Missouri has had six constitutional conventions: 1820, 1845, 1865, 1875, 1922-3, and 1943-4.
- Missouri has had four constitutions: 1820, 1865, 1875, and 1946.
- Missouri’s first constitutional convention, its 1820 statehood convention, was neither called by voters nor had its constitutional proposal ratified by voters.
- In 1835, the first time Missouri voters were asked whether they wanted to call a state constitutional convention, they voted no. The next five times they voted yes: 1844, 1865, 1875, 1922, and 1943.
- The last three times Missouri voters were asked whether they wanted to call a state constitutional convention they voted no: 1962, 1982, and 2002.
- The last time the Missouri Legislature agreed to ask Missouri voters whether they wanted to call a state constitutional convention was in 1874–close to 150 years ago and in the wake of the Civil War.
- In 1908, at the height of the Progressive Era, Missouri got the constitutional initiative, which was used 12 years later to grant Missouri the 20-year periodic constitutional convention referendum.
- Missouri’s Constitution stipulates that “no person holding any other office of trust or profit… shall be eligible to be elected a delegate.”
- Missouri is currently in its longest drought since statehood without a state constitutional convention: 78 years.
Note: For more on Missouri’s constitutional convention history, click on the History menu above.
Notable Process Facts
To empower the Constituent Power (the people) over the Constituted Powers (the government created by a constitution), the people are given three votes:
AMENDING THE CONSTITUTION
(Source: Missouri Constitution, Missouri Secretary of State, Accessed 2/23/2022.)
- 1. Limitation on revision and amendment.
- 2(a). Proposal of amendments by general assembly.
- 2(b). Submission of amendments proposed by general assembly or by the initiative.
- 3(a). Referendum on constitutional convention—qualifications of delegates—selection of nominees for district delegates
and delegates-at-large—election procedure.
- 3(b). Convention of delegates—quarters—oath—compensation—quorum—vote required—organization, employees,
- 3(c). Submission of proposal adopted by convention—time of election—effective date.
Section 1. Limitation on revision and amendment.
This constitution may be revised and amended only as therein provided.
Source: Const. of 1875, Art. XV, Sec. 1 (Amended November 2, 1920)
Section 2(a). Proposal of amendments by general assembly.
Constitutional amendments may be proposed at any time by a majority of the members-elect of each house of
the general assembly, the vote to be taken by yeas and nays and entered on the journal.
Source: Const. of 1875, Art. XV, Sec. 2 (Amended November 2, 1920).
Section 2(b). Submission of amendments proposed by general assembly or by
All amendments proposed by the general assembly or by the initiative shall be submitted to the electors for their approval or rejection by official ballot title as may be provided by law, on a separate ballot without party designation, at the next general election, or at a special election called by the governor prior thereto, at which he may submit any of the amendments. No such proposed amendment shall contain more than one amended and revised article of this constitution, or one new article which shall not contain more than one subject and matters properly connected therewith. If possible, each proposed amendment shall be published once a week for two consecutive weeks in two newspapers of different political faith in each county, the last publication to be not more than thirty nor less than fifteen days next preceding the election. If there be but one newspaper in any county, publication for four consecutive weeks shall be made. If a majority of the votes cast thereon is in favor of any amendment, the same shall take effect at the end of thirty days after the election. More than one amendment at the same election shall be so submitted as to enable the electors to vote on each amendment separately.
Source: Const. of 1875, Art. XV, Sec. 2 (Amended November 2, 1920).
Section 3(a). Referendum on constitutional convention—qualifications of delegates—selection of nominees for district delegates and delegates-at-large—election procedure.
At the general election on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November 1962, and every twenty years thereafter, the secretary of state shall, and at any general or special election the general assembly by law may, submit to the electors of the state the question “Shall there be a convention to revise and amend the constitution?” The question shall be submitted on a separate ballot without party designation, and if a majority of the votes cast thereon is for the affirmative, the governor shall call an election of delegates to the convention on a day not less than three nor more than six months after the election on the question. At the election the electors of the state shall elect fifteen delegates-at-large and the electors of each state senatorial district shall elect two delegates. Each delegate shall possess the qualifications of a senator; and no person holding any other office of trust or profit (officers of the organized militia, school directors, justices of the peace and notaries public excepted) shall be eligible to be elected a delegate. To secure representation from different political parties in each senatorial district, in the manner prescribed by its senatorial district committee each political party shall nominate but one candidate for delegate from each senatorial district, the certificate of nomination shall be filed in the office of the secretary of state at least thirty days before the election, each candidate shall be voted for on a separate ballot bearing the party designation, each elector shall vote for but one of the candidates, and the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes in each senatorial district shall be elected. Candidates for delegates-at-large shall be nominated by nominating petitions only, which shall be signed by electors of the state equal to five percent of the legal voters in the senatorial district in which the candidate resides until otherwise provided by law, and shall be verified as provided by law for initiative petitions, and filed in the office of the secretary of state at least thirty days before the election. All such candidates shall be voted for on a separate ballot without party designation, and the fifteen receiving the highest number of votes shall be elected. Not less than fifteen days before the election, the secretary of state shall certify to the county clerk of the county the name of each person nominated for the office of delegate from the senatorial district in which the county, or any part of it, is included, and the names of all persons nominated for delegates-at-large.
Source: Const. of 1875, Art. XV, Secs. 3, 4 (Amended November 2, 1920).
Section 3(b). Convention of delegates—quarters—oath—compensation—quorum—vote required—organization, employees, printing—public sessions—rules—vacancies.
The delegates so elected shall be convened at the seat of government by proclamation of the governor within six months after their election. The facilities of the legislative chambers and legislative quarters shall be made available for the convention and the delegates. Upon convening all delegates shall take an oath or affirmation to support the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Missouri, and to discharge faithfully their duties as delegates to the convention, and shall receive for their services the sum of ten dollars per diem and mileage as provided by law for members of the general assembly. A majority of the delegates shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business, and no constitution or amendment to this constitution shall be submitted to the electors for approval or rejection unless by the assent of a majority of all the delegates-elect, the yeas and nays being entered on the journal. The convention may appoint such officers, employees and assistants as it may deem necessary, fix their compensation, provide for the printing of its documents, journals, proceedings and a record of its debates, and appropriate money for the expenditures incurred. The sessions of the convention shall be held with open doors, and it shall determine the rules of its own proceedings, choose its own officers, and be the judge of the election, returns and qualifications of its delegates. In case of a vacancy by death, resignation or other cause, the vacancy shall be filled by the governor by the appointment of another delegate of the political party of the delegate causing the vacancy.
Source: Const. of 1875, Art. XV, Sec. 3 (Amended November 2, 1920).
Section 3(c). Submission of proposal adopted by convention—time of election—
Any proposed constitution or constitutional amendment adopted by the convention shall be submitted to a vote of the electors of the state at such time, in such manner and containing such separate and alternative propositions and on such official ballot as may be provided by the convention, at a special election not less than sixty days nor more than six months after the adjournment of the convention. Upon the approval of the constitution or constitutional amendments the same shall take effect at the end of thirty days after the election. The result of the election shall be proclaimed by the governor.
Source: Const. of 1875, Art. XV, Sec. 3 (Amended November 2, 1920).
Initiative and Referendum Processes
(Source: Missouri Initiative and Referendum Processes,
National Conference of State Legislatures, Accessed 2/25/2022.)
Types and Year Established
- Year established: 1908
- Types allowed: Direct initiative for statutes and constitutional amendments and popular referendum
Allowable Subject Matter
- Single subject rule: Yes (V.A.M.S. Const. Art. 3, § 50)
- Other subject restrictions: No appropriations or other new revenues not provided for in the measure (V.A.M.S. Const. Art. 3, § 50, 51)
- Repeat measures: No statute
Petition Application Process
- Application process information: Must file petition form draft that must contain an enacting clause and the full text of the measure no later than six months before election (V.A.M.S. Const. Art. 3, § 50; V.A.M.S. 116.332).
- Where to file with: Secretary of state (V.A.M.S. 116.332)
- Proponent organization and requirements: One designee will serve for official notices and statement of organization (V.A.M.S. Const. Art. 3, § 50; V.A.M.S. 116.332).
- Proponent financial disclosure requirements: Include but may not be limited to no anonymous contribution in excess of $25, disclosure of contributors, corporations and labor organizations are allowed to make contributions and expenditures, following timelines and deadlines apply for filing reports (V.A.M.S. 130.110; 130.120; 130.029; 130.046; 130.041).
- Withdrawal of petition: The sponsor may file a written notice to withdraw the initiative with the secretary of state (V.A.M.S. 116.115).
- Petition title and summary creation: Secretary of state and approved by attorney general (V.A.M.S. 116.180; V.A.M.S. 116.334)
- What is on each petition: Full text of the measure, all language that the measure removes and all new language, warning, county, affidavit, notary public seal, all in form prescribed (V.A.M.S. 116.050; 116.050)
Petition Review, Creation, and Public Notice
- Who creates petitions: Secretary of state creates a sample petition and then the petition is reviewed by the attorney general (V.A.M.S. 116.334).
- Fiscal review: State auditor prepares, and proponents may submit proposed review (V.A.M.S. 116.17).
- General review of petition: The secretary of state will furnish ballot statements explaining the effects of a no or yes vote for the measure, which will include whether it will increase, decrease or maintain taxes (V.A.M.S. 116.025).
- Legislature or other government official review: After certification for the ballot, the joint committee on legislative research holds a public hearing in Jefferson City to take public comments regarding the measure (V.A.M.S. 116.153).
- Public review or notice: Public may comment for 15 days on petition once it is approved for circulation, and may attend hearing held by joint committee on legislative research, with comments from that meeting made public, and newspaper publication (V.A.M.S. 116.334; 116.260).
- Circulator requirements: Must be 18 or older, registered with the secretary of state, and cannot have been convicted or pled guilty to forgery crimes (V.A.M.S. § 116.080).
- Circulator oaths or affidavits: Yes (V.A.M.S. § 116.080)
- Paid per signature: No ban, but must mark this and identify their employer on the affidavit (V.A.M.S. 116.030).
- Allowed to pay another for their signature: Prohibited (V.A.M.S. 116.090)
- Number of signatures required: For statutory, 5 % of total vote for governor in the last election in each of two-thirds of the state’s congressional districts. For constitutional amendments, 8 % of total vote for governor in the last election in each of two-thirds of the state’s congressional districts (V.A.M.S. Const. Art. 3, § 50 and V.A.M.S. Const. Art. 3, § 53).
- Who can sign the petition: Legal, registered voters (V.A.M.S. Const. Art. 3, § 50 and V.A.M.S. 116.060)
- Geographic distribution: In each of two-thirds of the congressional districts, and each petition page must only contain signatures from a singular county (V.A.M.S. Const. Art. 3, § 50; V.A.M.S. 116.060).
- Collected in-person: In the circulator’s presence (V.A.M.S. 116.030)
- Withdrawal process of individual signature: The person must file a sworn statement with the secretary of state any time before the petition is filed (V.A.M.S. § 116.110).
- Verification: Random sampling of at least 5 % of signatures implemented by secretary of state. If a congressional district has 90 % of the needed valid signatures, the petition fails in that district. If a congressional district has 110 % of the needed valid signatures, the petition qualifies in that district. If a congressional district has 90 to 110 % of the needed valid signatures, every single signature will be verified to discern if it qualifies (V.A.M.S. § 116.120).
Submission Timelines and Deadlines
- Timeline for collecting signatures: Eighteen months (V.A.M.S. § 116.334)
- Submission deadline of signatures: Sponsors must submit signatures no later than six months before the election and can only start collecting the day after the previous general election (V.A.M.S. § 116.334).
Ballot Access and Preparation
- Which election is a measure on: At general elections, except when a special election is ordered by the legislature (V.A.M.S. Const. Art. 3, § 52)
- Ballot title and summary: Secretary of state, approved by attorney general (V.A.M.S. 116.160; 116.180; 115.245; 116.210; 116.220)
- Time period restrictions before placed on the ballot: Must be filed at least six months before the election it is to be voted on (V.A.M.S. Const. Art. 3, § 50).
The Election and Effect
- Conflicting measures: Measure receiving most affirmative votes prevails, even if it did not receive the greatest majority of affirmative votes (V.A.M.S. Const. Art. 3, § 51; V.A.M.S. 116.320).
- Majority to pass: Yes (V.A.M.S. Const. Art. 3, § 51)
- Timeline for taking effect: When approved by a majority of votes (V.A.M.S. Const. Art. 3, § 51)
- Repeal or change restrictions: No veto from governor, and legislature may pass statutes normally (V.A.M.S. Const. Art. 3, § 52).
Countdown until Nov. 8, 2022
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: The State of Missouri is on the right track and headed in a good direction?
- Agree: 33%
- Disagree: 51%
- Not sure: 16%
Subsample Question: The sample size for this question is 453. The margin of error for the full results for the above question is ± 5.83%.
Source: Saint Louis University Research Institute Poll, August 2022.
We the People as Constituent Power in Missouri’s Constitution
We, the people of Missouri… do establish this Constitution for the better government of the state.
At the general election on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November 1962, and every twenty years thereafter, the secretary of state shall, and at any general or special election the general assembly by law may, submit to the electors of the state the question “Shall there be a convention to revise and amend the constitution?”… [N]o person holding any other office of trust or profit… shall be eligible to be elected a [convention] delegate.
Using the Initiative to Create the Periodic Constitutional Convention Referendum
For more than a decade a movement for a convention to revise the constitution of Missouri has been under way, but there was no well-organized effort before 1918. Each successive session of the legislature was prevailed upon to submit the question to the voters of the State, but without avail.
Finally the New Constitution Association of Missouri took form and began to function. Since the legislature refused to submit the matter to the voters, it was decided that the next best step was to change, by means of the initiative, the method of calling constitutional conventions.
We have permitted the political parties, which were intended to be agencies through which people would express their will through legislation, to pass under the control of special interests that dictate the laws of the state and prevent the legislature from enacting laws in the interests of the people.
Missouri’s 1943-4 Constitutional Convention Discusses the Constitutional Convention as a Legislative Bypass Mechanism
Mr. Wood: I have served in the General Assembly… There had been a prevailing sentiment in this State we should have a constitutional convention but did the°General Assembly ever present the question to the people? Someone is in error in saying it can call the Convention. All it can do is submit the question. It has never done it. It should submit this question every twenty years. What did it do? Did it pass the necessary resolution in order in the regular manner it should be presented to the people at election? It refused to do so…. [W]hy should you look to the General Assembly after the experience that we have had in this state with respect to the calling of the Constitutional Convention? Why should we look to the General Assembly in view of that?
Mr. Meador: Article 15 of the Constitution leaves nothing to the Legislature and the Secretary of State issues a call for this Convention every twenty years – the Legislature has nothing to do about that. The Legislature has nothing to do about the time of the election; it has nothing to do about the nomination of the delegates; it has nothing to do about the election of the delegates; it hasn’t anything to do with this at all….
Mr. Mayor: And all of these restrictions which are placed on the Legislature of which you speak were not placed there by any Constitutional Convention, as I understand it, but were placed there by the people themselves in an initiated measure. Is that not true?… I am asking this as a question from the fact that from 1875 until this amendment was adopted by the initiative the Legislature which had the power to call a Constitutional Convention, had refused again and again to do it.
Mr. Meador: That’s exactly the reason.
Mr. Opie: [D]o you understand that this section makes provision whereby the Legislature shall establish a compensation of the Delegates of this Convention?… It is common knowledge that whoever furnishes the money and controls the purse strings generally dictates…. Don’t you think that those Legislators would have quite a bit of influence during the session of the Convention?
A Contemporary Missouri Scholar
Commentators have long recognized that the Missouri Constitution needs a major overhaul to condense, consolidate, and modernize—yet voters have consistently voted against calling a new constitutional convention when the question has been put to them.